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How to File a Complaint Against an HOA (50-State Guide)

Robert Deposada - HOA - July 8, 2024

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Contents

    Homeowners Associations (HOAs) are meant to keep property values high and maintain community standards, but sometimes HOA Boards overstep their power and things go wrong.

    Most homeowners don’t realize that you CAN file a complaint against your HOA, and you CAN take legal action against your HOA. However, it’s best to try and resolve the issue internally by discussing it with the HOA board or management before escalating. Lawsuits can be expensive and time-consuming and some states require you to go through dispute resolution before suing.  

    In this article, we cover important steps you may consider taking to resolve your problem with your HOA. 

    Did you know we have a free tool powered by AI that helps you create a demand letter to an HOA? Check out our demand letter tool.

    BACKGROUND: Understanding HOAs

    • HOAs are groups that make and enforce rules and take care of shared spaces in private communities, like condos and single-family homes.

    • HOAs handle common areas and sometimes offer services like trash pickup, but their main job is to protect the property values in the community.

    • HOAs govern themselves by enforcing the community's rules, which are usually written in a document called the Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs).

    • CC&Rs are a set of rules that state how an HOA functions. They explain what the HOA can do, what rules homeowners must follow (like rules about fence height and placement), and what happens if someone breaks the rules. Each HOA has its own CC&Rs. Besides the CC&Rs, most HOAs have bylaws that explain how the HOA is managed, and they also have rules made by the HOA board.

    • When homeowners buy a house in the community, they agree to follow these rules and allow the HOA to give fines if the rules are broken.

    • From time to time, tensions arise between HOAs and homeowners who think their HOAs have overstepped their bounds.

    • It is important to note that depending on which state you reside in, Homeowners Associations (HOA) may also be known as Property Owners Associations (POA), Condominium Associations, Townhouse Boards, etc.   Make sure you know the correct legal term in your state as you conduct your preparation for filing a complaint against your HOA or suing in small claims court. 

    Steps to Filing a Complaint Against Your HOA

    1. Review and Understand your HOA’s Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs), HOA Rules, or Bylaws. By reviewing your HOA’s regulations, you will ensure your complaint is valid under these rules.

    2. Document Everything. Keep records of all communications, meetings, and any relevant documentation. For example, opt for email communication with your HOA Board so that all conversions are in writing as this will be part of your evidence should you need it. 

    3. Read threads and reviews (Reddit, Nextdoor, etc.) of other homeowners who have had problems with your HOA as this can demonstrate a pattern of abuse by your HOA Board. Also, consider reviewing Reddit threads of other homeowners outside of your community who have had experience filing complaints and/or lawsuits against HOAs so you have an idea of what to expect.

    4. Communicate directly with the HOA. Start by discussing your issue with the HOA board or manager. Most problems are solved through communication. Try to communicate in writing as much as possible in case you need to refer to these communications as evidence later.

    5. File Formal Complaint with the HOA. If direct communication fails, file a formal complaint with the HOA board. Review your HOA’s CC&Rs to understand the proper procedures established by the HOA. 

    6. The HOA may then review your complaint and follow the process stated in the CC&Rs. If the HOA doesn’t follow the process for resolving complaints in the CC&Rs, document this as you may need this evidence later on.  

    7. Use Social Media and Reviews. Use social media to voice your complaint and warn other residents. You may find that other homeowners have faced similar situations with the HOA and they may be helpful in finding a solution.  

    8. Escalate the Complaint: Once the HOA reaches a decision, you can escalate the complaint. If you do not agree with the HOA resolution, you may be able to file: (1) A formal complaint with a government entity against the HOA (more on this below), (2) Send a Demand Letter to the HOA, and/or (3) file a lawsuit against the HOA in Small Claims Court. More on these 3 options below. 

    Preparing and Sending a Demand Letter to your HOA

    Whether you are communicating or filing a complaint with the HOA, a demand letter becomes one of your most useful tools.  

    Here are some reasons why you should consider sending a demand letter to your HOA:

    1. A demand letter signals to the HOA that you are serious about the issue and willing to take action to resolve it. Many problems get resolved by simply sending a demand letter to an HOA.

    2. If you end up filing a small claims lawsuit against the HOA, the judge in your case may ask if you tried to resolve the problem out of court. By sending a written demand letter, there is a record of your attempt to resolve the problem out of court that you can include in your evidence. 

    3. A demand letter will also help you organize your facts and evidence and create a timeline of events. This will help you remain consistent and factual as you go through the steps to resolve your complaint. 

    Did you know we have a free tool powered by AI that helps you create a demand letter to an HOA? Check out our demand letter tool.

    Here is a video on how our demand letter tool works: 

    Filing a Complaint Against the HOA with a State Government Agency

    The main government agencies that usually handle complaints against HOAs are:

    • State Attorney Generals, 

    • State Departments of Real Estate, 

    • State Office of the Ombudsman for Common-Interest Communities, 

    • State Office of Consumer Protection, and 

    • State Office of Business and Professional Regulations. 

    Please note that in most states, government entities do not take complaints against HOAs too seriously (or even handle them). It is important to know that most problems with homeowners’ associations (HOAs) are seen by government entities as private issues to be dealt with in civil court, like small claims court, rather than the government having to step in to help resolve the issue. This means that the government has an expectation that you handle your complaint against your HOA on your own by hiring a lawyer or going to small claims court on your own.   

    The website of the California State Attorney General makes this point clear when it states, “if you are having issues with your HOA, you may wish to review the HOA’s rules to see what recourse you may have. You may also consider consulting with an attorney regarding your legal options.”

    If you decide to file a lawsuit, here’s a guide on how to file a lawsuit in Small Claims Court against your HOA.

    Helpful Links to File Complaints Against HOAs at the State Level

    We reviewed how several states handle homeowner complaints against HOAs in the table below. As we already mentioned, not all government agencies accept complaints against HOAs. Each state’s legislature determines whether a government agency will have the power to regulate an HOA. If a government agency in your state doesn’t handle HOA complaints, you will need to resolve your complaint against the HOA by sending a demand letter, hiring an attorney, suing in small claims court, etc.

    STATE

    HELPFUL LINKS

    Arizona

    Department of Real Estate: Submit complaints about HOAs

    Delaware

    Delaware Attorney General HOA Ombudsman Internal Dispute Resolution Filing a Complaint. The also provide helpful information about common issues with HOAs

    Florida

    Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR): Submit complaints about condominium common areas  

    Office of the Condominium Ombudsman – file a complaint against condo association or HOA  (see Forms)

    Nevada

    Office of the Ombudsman for Common-Interest Communities – File a complaint

    New Jersey

    NJ Department of Community Affairs Association Regulation Initiative Complaint form

    New York

    Office of the Attorney General: File complaints for violations of New York’s nonprofit laws or for general misconduct: NY AG HOA Complaint Form

    South Carolina

    South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs – File a Complaint

    Texas

    Texas Real Estate Commission (TREC): Handles complaints about property management and HOA practices: TREC Complaint Form.

    Virginia

    VA Dept of Professional and Occupational Regulation - Office of the Common Interest Community Ombudsman – File a Complaint

    In some states, county agencies (not State agencies) might take care of HOA complaints. If you don't find a state office, check with your county. 

    Sue the HOA in Small Claims Court

    You can always sue an HOA, but whether you will win against your HOA depends on if you have a good legal reason also known as a valid legal claim. For example, if the HOA consistently acts in violation of the CC&Rs and you can prove it, you may have a valid legal claim and win.  

    Before suing the HOA, consider the following steps: 

    1. Review your HOA’s CC&Rs. Sometimes the HOA rules (CC&Rs) state  you have to use binding arbitration instead of going to court. If your CC&Rs have this rule, contact your HOA to start the arbitration process instead of suing. Determine who is truly responsible for what happened. For example, if you live in a townhome and have water damage from burst pipes, determine whether the pipes belong to your neighbor or the HOA. If the pipes belong to your neighbor, you would need to sue your neighbor for the property damage and not the HOA. 

    2. Send a demand letter to the HOA. Many issues are resolved at the demand letter step without having to take further time and money. 

    If sending a demand letter, and filing a complaint with the HOA and government entities, did not produce the results you wanted, consider filing a small claims court case against the HOA. Small claims court is often called the “People’s Court” because of its informal process, user-friendly procedures, and low cost. Unlike other types of courts, in small claims courts, people can bring disputes without the need for a lawyer. In fact, in some small claims courts, lawyers are not allowed to represent the parties at the hearing.  Learn more in our guide to small claims court.

    Did you know we have a free tool powered by AI that helps you create a demand letter to an HOA? Check out our demand letter tool.

    Author

    Robert Deposada

    Legal Educator at People Clerk. Robert has a passion for breaking down complicated legal processes in easy-to-read legal guides.

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